The grey, British skies seemed determined to quell my excited mood and, as I joined the queue for the channel tunnel, the drizzle misted across my visor and I wasn't entirely sure that a six hour sprint across France was the most sensible way in which to pop my touring cherry. The panicked security guard, running around the cafe asking the barista for the 'defib thingy' did little to do quell the doubt.
But this was a journey I had been looking forward to for weeks. I had been eagerly anticipating my journey to Garmisch Partenkirchen for the BMW Motorrad Days festival and it would take more than a little rain and the off-chance that I'd be randomly defibrillated to dampen the excitement of all those bikes, that beer, and the promise of pigs knuckle.
Ten minutes into the Calais roads and with the first roundabout successfully negotiated my trepidation was gone. I relaxed long enough to forget about the crosswinds that are naturally leaned into upon overtaking high-vehicles, and fail to remember that these would be reversed. I was blown hard into the left lane; habits and muscle-memory would need retraining.Time for re-education was plentiful; this first day down to Nancy offered solid hours of straight-line riding and more than enough opportunity to settle down.
An early start the next day and genuine excitement at the thought of riding the comfortable, capable F800GT again, saw the dry, yellowing fields of France replaced with the luscious greens and browns of Germany. After a few hours the city of Freiburg on the west of the Black Forest provided an opportunity to take stock and catch a breath. It was an intake of air that was to be required not soon after, as my route towards Lindau would see me ride along the glistening banks of Lake Constance and be left gasping at its incredible beauty.
The sun was bright and the air fresh with the smell of pine and agriculture. One of the many benefits to exploring a foreign place on two wheels is that your senses and the olfactory response to your surroundings become heightened; recollections of roads and regions become so much more than just sights within your mind’s eye. They are experiences.
The town of Garmisch itself is a perceptional realisation all of its own. If you were asked to describe a typical Bavarian town - with all its wooden-beamed, white walled houses and perhaps an oom-pah rhythm or two - chances are that you would withhold some of the more stereotypical descriptions. You would be wrong to do so though. Garmisch is all of those things and more. Yet somehow the swarm of motorcycles that now grace its usually quiet streets don’t seem out of place; there’s a certain sense of belonging, a sense of fit to the propeller badges that are parked up on every kerbside.
A quick shower, five minutes to come to terms with not having to ride for the next forty-eight hours and it’s off to the festival site itself. The single, entry road is enclosed by fields of parked bikes on either side. And not just those of a Bavarian Motor Works variety either; this is an inclusive, celebration of motorcycle culture and the pilgrimage has been made by riders on almost any two (and occasionally three) wheeled vehicle that can be imagined.
The first night is spent in a large tent with room enough for thousands of revellers and the supporting kitchens, barrels of beer, serving staff and a large centre stage from which we are treated to a bizarre but not wholly un-enjoyable brass rendition of Psy’s Gangnam Style. It’s perhaps a fair yardstick by which to measure the tone of the entire weekend; nothing is quite as expected. In a good way.
After some sleep and a hearty breakfast it’s back up the hill again to explore the festival in depth. On the right as I enter is the Motodrom - a wall of death, travelling show operated by young men with moustaches and sleeve tattoos - it’s a fitting centerpiece to the custom builders area and the spiritual home for the bikes that will be involved in the Boxer Sprint event the next day. Ace Cafe merchandise is everywhere.
Elsewhere, the tents in the remainder of the park house exactly what you would expect from a motorcycle show organised by the BMW brand. Smaller, component manufacturers display their wares alongside purpose-built ‘conversation pieces’; bikes built or modified with the explicit purpose of getting this large, cash-rich community to part with their money. BMW themselves display the entire 2013 range of scooters, motorcycles, merchandise alongside their most recent star, the Concept Ninety. Plenty of attendees leave the following day in new, matching textiles and with purposeful intentions towards that next bike purchase.
Saturday is Boxer sprint day and I find myself stood with Roland Sands and other exponents of the Cafe Racing scene that has been bubbling steadily internationally - and particularly. 59 Club patches are worn with pride and in-between exclamations in the German announcers’ native tongue, ‘English cool’ and ‘Tonne-up boys’ are phrases dropped to enhance his cool. All of these influences have come together in the development of the Concept Ninety and as it roars off to victory against the 1976 Daytona winning R90s, ridden once more by Steve McLaughlin, it’s clear to even the non-German speakers amongst us that this bike has captured the zeitgeist perfectly.
The Bavarian mountains and the lure of the Alps nearby dictate this as GS Adventure country however, and as I pack to leave on the Sunday, wave after wave of GS riders - fully laden - set off for the hills and mountains for their journeys home. I delay my departure for a few hours and decide to take a moment to just sit and contemplate the previous few days. I’m excited to get back onto the F800GT and have developed a fondness for its practical nature and the way in which it goes about its work. There is a certain ‘girl next door’ quality to the F800GT that defies its on-paper description.
It’s true to say that it can feel a little agricultural at times - this is the nature of the parallel twin - but there’s a certain charm to this familiarity that has only been enhanced by the sound of Boxer engines over the weekend. Much like an oom-pah band’s rendition of what is essentially a Korean, Internet meme, my steed for the journey home would perhaps not have been my first choice of tunes in the jukebox. But right here, right now, in the heart of Bavaria and with eight hundred miles until home, it just all seems to make sense.